BOISE — Idaho employers would no longer be able to ask job applicants about their criminal history prior to the interview process, under legislation introduced Monday in the Senate Judiciary and Rules Committee.

Commonly referred to as “Fair Chance Employment” or “Ban the Box” legislation, the intent of the bill is to give formerly incarcerated individuals a chance to get their foot in the door before their criminal history is considered.

The bill sponsor, Sen. Cherie Buckner-Webb, D-Boise, said the bill doesn’t take away an employer’s right to ask about a job applicant’s criminal history. It just requires that the discussion comes later in the process.

Once an applicant has been invited for an interview, or after a conditional offer of employment is made, “then it’s absolutely appropriate for a full discussion to take place about an applicant’s criminal history,” Buckner-Webb said. “The applicant can talk about what they’ve done to turn their life around.”

The legislation does not apply to law enforcement agencies, the criminal justice system, or to employers looking to enlist a nonemployee volunteer.

“I want employers to see the skills that formerly incarcerated Idahoans have before they turn them away,” Buckner-Webb said. “If someone’s past record will impact their job performance, then an employer still has the opportunity to change their mind.”

When formerly incarcerated individuals have steady employment, she said, they have better access to housing and food, which leads to lower recidivism.

“When Idahoans have paid their debt to society, they deserve opportunities to reenter society and start giving back to the community,” she said.

The bill should now come back to the committee for a public hearing.

Resolution asks for better understanding of bird populations

Lewiston Sen. Dan Johnson is encouraging the Idaho Department of Fish and Game to improve its understanding of declining bird populations.

Johnson introduced a concurrent resolution to that effect in the Senate Resources and Conservation Committee on Monday.

The bill notes that North American bird populations have declined 30 percent since 1970 — which represents the loss of about 1 billion birds.

The causes for that decline are not well known. What is known, Johnson said, is that birds provide substantial economic benefits to the state, including insect control, pollination and seed dispersal, and reducing the rodent population.

His resolution doesn’t mandate that state agencies undertake any specific action. However, it encourages the Department of Fish and Wildlife and other agencies “to increase efforts to better understand the issues that are contributing to the decline of Idaho’s bird population and the implications of this decline, and to identify opportunities to restore healthy wild bird populations.”

“This (resolution) is just trying to draw attention to some of the changes that are taking place,” Johnson said.

Homebuyer bill introduced

First-time homebuyers could save as much as $15,000 per year tax-free — or $30,000 for a couple — under legislation introduced Monday in the House Revenue and Taxation Committee.

The bill is a modified version of a proposal Gov. Brad Little introduced during the 2019 session.

Last year’s plan, which never made it out of committee, would have allowed first-time homebuyers to save as much as $3,000 per year tax-free, or $6,000 for a couple.

“All this bill does is provide a tool to allow individuals and married couples to save up for a first home,” said Rep. Robert Anderst, R-Nampa, the bill sponsor. “The idea is to help foster a culture of saving toward the purchase of a new home. Research shows that the amount of money people are putting into their first home purchase is dwindling, while the value is increasing.”

Idaho already offers pre-tax savings accounts for health care and the cost of higher education, he said. The estimated cost of a first-time homebuyer program is about $2 million per year.

Rep. Priscilla Giddings, R-White Bird, was the only committee member to vote against introducing the bill.

“I don’t believe it’s the role of government for us to charge taxpayers and approve a $2 million hit to the general fund to teach people how to save money,” she said. “I think that’s a progressive idea.”

Crabtree proposes ambulance boards

Idaho ambulance districts would be governed by independent, elected boards under legislation introduced Monday in the Senate Health and Welfare Committee.

The bill, sponsored by Sen. Carl Crabtree, R-Grangeville, would only apply to districts created after July 1, 2020.

Under current law, county commissioners are responsible for governing the districts. However, Crabtree’s bill would change that to independent, elected boards. That’s the same process used to govern fire districts.

“This legislation also paves the way for ambulance districts to operate across county lines, if that makes sense,” he said.

Crabtree introduced the bill at the request of Idaho County Commissioner Skip Brandt.

Spence may be contacted at bspence@lmtribune.com or (208) 791-9168.

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